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Lower Birth Weights Linked To Wildfire Smoke

Aired 9/10/12 on KPBS News.

A new study finds pregnant women exposed to smoke during Southern California’s 2003 wildfires had newborns with slightly lower birth weights than normal.

— A new study finds pregnant women exposed to smoke during Southern California’s 2003 wildfires had newborns with slightly lower birth weights than normal.

Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D., studied more than 138,000 birth records of newborns whose mothers were 3-9 months pregnant and exposed to smoke in Southern California’s 2003 wildfires.

NASA Satellite Image:  Smoke From Southern California Wildfires.
October 27,2003
Enlarge this image

Above: NASA Satellite Image: Smoke From Southern California Wildfires. October 27,2003

Her report found newborns exposed to wildfire smoke in the womb were about 10 grams or .35 ounces lighter than non-exposed babies at birth.

By comparison, pregnant women who smoke cigarettes typically give birth to babies who weigh at least 150 grams or about 5 ounces less than expected.

Doctor John Missanelli, a veteran OBGYN at Sharp Grossmont Hospital said the 10 gram weight difference is not statistically significant.

“I’m much more worried about women who are smoking themselves when they’re pregnant, cigarette smoking has a really profound affect on the growth and size of the baby,” said Missanelli.

Still, he cautioned “second hand smoke, even from wildfires could make other health issues, like asthma worse in a pregnant woman.”

Low birth weight is linked to failure to thrive, chronic health problems, and an increased risk of infant death by age one.

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